Does hands-free technology fail California drivers?

While hands-free technology is meant to free up a driver’s focus, a study found that it can create just as much of a risk.

The California Highway Patrol recently received a grant that will be used to target distracted driving. According to KRCRTV, law enforcement officers will be able to teach people about the dangers of engaging in such behaviors and enforce the state's laws.

It is important to point out that while texting has largely been the subject of distracted driving campaigns, there are other items that can take a driver's focus off the road. In fact, even technology aimed at freeing up a driver's hands has been found to be just as risky as holding a phone.

The inherent risk

There are three main types of distractions: cognitive, visual and manual. Texting on the phone, for example, requires a driver to think, look and touch, which is why it is so dangerous. Recognizing the importance of keeping a driver's hands on the wheel, well-intentioned developers launched hands-free technology systems that enable someone to use a phone without having to hold it.

Unfortunately, the activity still requires a driver to divert his or her attention from the road. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that three out of four people believe that hands-free technology is safe, but a recent study suggests otherwise. The study observed voice-activated commands and how they distracted a driver cognitively. The findings included the following:

  • Using hands-free systems to write messages was more of a problem than simply listening to messages.
  • Using Apple's Siri instead of an in-car infotainment system ranked higher in terms of mental distraction.
  • An inaccurate system generates a higher level of distraction.

The foundation's study last year found that either holding a cellphone or using a hands-free system ranked the same in terms of cognitive distraction. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, using hands-free technology to talk on a phone causes something known as "inattention blindness," which causes a driver to miss visual cues right in front of him or her.

By the numbers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 10 percent of fatal car accidents in 2013 involved distracted driving. Further, 16 percent of all incidents that were reported to police involved distractions.

In California, the state Office of Traffic Safety notes that 45 percent of residents surveyed admitted in 2013 that they had made some kind of mistake due to talking on the phone while driving. Even more astounding, 70 percent of those surveyed said that they had either been in an accident or had a near-miss due to a driver using a phone.

The risk of any kind of distracted driving is very real. Anyone who has questions about such car accidents should consult with an attorney.